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Peter Winkler reports from Planet Zog

Posted by Mad Mitch on UTC 2018-05-22 10:49.

It's a real mystery why such an otherwise reputable and thoughtful newpaper as the Swiss Neue Zürcher Zeitung depends for its USA reporting on a team of deranged Trump-haters. Last February we fisked their USA editor Andreas Rüesch's swivel-eyed report of the President's State of the Union speech.

Today we find a piece from another of their crazed USA crew, Peter Winkler, whose byline mistakenly says 'Washington' instead of 'Planet Zog'.

Anyone who tries to keep up with American politics will be puzzled by the headline and strapline on Winkler's piece:

Donald Trump propagates a new conspiracy theory

The followers of the President accuse the FBI that it allowed itself to become involved in a politically motivated operation. The alleged evidence: meagre.

Donald Trump propagiert eine neue Verschwörungstheorie
Die Anhänger des Präsidenten werfen dem FBI vor, es habe sich in eine parteipolitisch motivierte Operation einspannen lassen. Die angeblichen Beweise dazu: dünn.

I can't bring myself to waste a sunny morning in late spring translating Winkler's ravings in their entirety. The motto is: if it's in the NYT or the WaPo it must be true. If it's in the WSJ it must ipso facto be false. Why the NZZ needs someone sitting in Washington in order to read the NYT is a question only the NZZ's accountants can answer. Here are a few bits and pieces though, which will give you a flavour of his contribution to the sum of human wisdom.

Planet Zog calling

After a couple of introductory smears about Trump's rabid use of Twitter and his reliance on Fox News for his information, Winkler has a paragraph hinting at all the dubious secret meetings with shady foreign agents that Trump's son had during the election process. Mueller's investigators have picked up on this and 'one of the three men is cooperating with the Special Prosecutor'. Then comes a paragraph linking it all together:

As a result, according to the Times, various interviews were carried out in the USA, in Israel and elsewhere. It concerns the question of whether Trump's election staff accepted illegal help from abroad and whether this in any case happened in consultation with Russia. According to the American [Security] Services, Moscow carried out a massive internet campaign for the benefit of Trump, partly by influencing news flows, partly be hacking the computer systems of the Democrats.

Laut der «Times» wurden in der Folge verschiedene Einvernahmen in den USA, in Israel und anderswo durchgeführt. Es geht um die Frage, ob Trumps Wahlkampfstab illegale Hilfe aus dem Ausland akzeptierte und ob dies allenfalls in Absprache mit Russland geschah. Moskau führte laut den amerikanischen Diensten eine grossangelegte Internet-Kampagne zugunsten Trumps aus, zum Teil mit Beeinflussung von Nachrichtenflüssen, zum Teil mit dem Hacken von Computersystemen der Demokraten.

After dishing up this reheated 'reds under the beds' nonsense, Winkler goes on to deal with the revelations about the role of Stefan Halper, whom the FBI used against the Trump campaign.

That he collected information about the relationships of three figures in Trump's circle with Moscow should, according to the Wall Street Journal, 'unsettle all those who want to keep the organs of justice and the secret services out of party politics'. The paper remains studiously silent on the point that foreign powers in 2016 already influenced party politics, particularly because Trump's election staff allowed them to.

Dass er bei drei Figuren aus dem Umfeld Trumps Erkundigungen über ihre Beziehungen zu Moskau einholte, sollte laut dem «Wall Street Journal» all jene «beunruhigen, welche die Justizorgane und die Geheimdienste von der Parteipolitik fernhalten wollen». Dabei verschweigt das Blatt geflissentlich, dass ausländische Mächten 2016 bereits intensiv auf die Parteipolitik Einfluss nahmen, und zwar weil Trumps Wahlkampfstab dies zuliess.

He continues:

What else should the organs of justice and the secret services have done after they had received this information? Silently observe? Or attempt to get to the bottom of the matter?

Was also hätten die Justizorgane und die Geheimdienste tun sollen, als sie entsprechende Hinweise erhielten? Schweigend zuschauen? Oder versuchen, der Sache auf den Grund zu gehen?

Winkler's magisterial summary now comes:

A glance at the timeline would even convince those sceptical about the FBI operation that the federal police had good reasons to find out more about the Russia connection. For it was in June, when Trump's son, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner and his election manager Paul Manafort met emissaries of the Kremlin in the New York Trump Tower, because they hoped for compromising material about Hillary Clinton. That is documented. Halper, the FBI informant, began his investigations in July, one month after that meeting.

Ein Blick auf die Zeitachse müsste auch die Skeptiker der FBI-Operation davon überzeugen, dass die Bundespolizei gute Gründe hatte, über die Russland-Connection mehr erfahren zu wollen. Denn es war im Juni, als sich Trumps Sohn, sein Schwiegersohn Jared Kushner und sein Wahlkampfmanager Paul Manafort im New Yorker Trump Tower mit Emissären des Kremls trafen, weil sie sich kompromittierendes Material über Hillary Clinton erhofften. Das ist aktenkundig, und Halper, der FBI-Informant, nahm seine Erkundigungen ab dem Juli, also einen Monat nach dem Treffen, auf.

Arriving back in real world after our trip to Planet Zog to sniff Winkler's extrusions, we are confronted with the fact that the FBI – at that time (and still, to some extent) the provisional wing of the Democratic Party and the Obama White House – actually paid public money for the creation of the 'evidence' of Russian involvement by even shadier people. This outrageous fact seems to have escaped Winkler's notice completely.

Halper's fishing expedition provided no information of any value at all. Trump's team gave short shrift to the 'emissaries of the Kremlin' and there was no further contact.

Even worse than its creation of the FBI's fake 'evidence', the FBI and DOJ almost certainly used it to justify the FISA phone tapping of American citizens who were involved in the Trump campaign in the hope that something would turn up that would be the 'insurance policy' in the unlikely case the Donald Trump won the election. Nothing has turned up.

The exchanges between the lovebirds Peter Strzok and Lisa Page document in undeniable and undenied detail the attempt undertaken at the highest level by the White House and the powers-that-be in the USA to subvert the Trump election campaign.

The violation of the Swiss tradition of fairness

One cannot expect Swiss people, despite a very good standard of English, to keep up with the leading blogs on the subject of Trump – it's just not realistic. It is therefore incumbent upon their media correspondents in the USA to give them a balanced and even-handed picture of events that are becoming more complex by the day.

Correspondents should, of course, report what the MSM are saying, but they should also take the trouble to do what their readers do not have the time to do – that is to take in the many views of the other sides of the debate. There are, for example, many highly qualified American lawyers following knowledgeably the twists and turns of this story in great detail. Why ignore their expertise?

Why the NZZ's correspondents ignore these sources is a mystery – they would have hundreds of interesting things to write about. Is it just laziness, innate bias or too much respect for the authority of traditional outlets? The Swiss should follow their historical traditions and be even-handed in this matter – they really do not have a dog in this fight. Instead, correspondents in world-renowned newspapers just serve up pap to them, day in day out.

One day, Winkler's spaceship may arrive back to the real world from that distant planet – let's hope it is soon, but the mere fact that he is still peddling 'Russia collusion' so long after the sane abandoned the concept makes it doubtful.